All the little things add up

All the little signs of spring  are now emerging on my homestead, with winter finally at an end. The enormous maple tree in our back yard has sap seeping from its grayish brown bark. I find it very interesting that it is only the southern side of the tree that the bark seeps sap. This has been the case every spring that I have taken note, which is quite some time now. It appears that there is a shadow on the bark. One could be fooled that this is the case if you are not observant, like I am, of the tiny subtleties of spring. Another indicator of the sap flow, is the activity on the bark. There are many different type of insects that come to dine on the sap; insects as small as tiny pollinating flies to honey bees. It is a mysterious world of the insect that I get to observe,for just a fleeting time, for which I am grateful.

The Leather Leaf Mahonia flowers are just appearing. A small bright yellow flower, with an amazingly pungent lemon sent. This flower calls mostly honey bees. It is truly amazing how the bees can find and  are attracted to something so small. It will be only a short time before the lemon scented blueberry flowers awaken to their spring calling. Then the peach flowers will follow the blueberry flowers. On and on it will go. This has been the pattern on my homestead for some time now. It will be interesting, as I add new variety of plants to our edible landscaping, to observe how the order will change.

While I take time to observe the honey bees on warm days, I notice they will be carrying bright orange and bright yellow pollen on their pollen baskets. I would imagine this is pollen taken from the local nurseries stock of Easter lilies. Thankfully for my bees there is a nursery about one mile down the road from me. This will give them a consistent supply of pollen and nectar in the early days of spring before Mother Nature has come into full swing.

crocus

Crocus

Let us not forget one of my heart’s delights, the flowers! My children and I planted about fifty crocus bulbs two falls ago. These beauties are peeping their green tiny tips through the mulch. Yet another observation I notice is that the crocus flowers keep going once they immerge, slow and steady. Where as the daffodil and tulip flowers immerge, but then pause for some time with only the beginnings of growth. It seems to be a few months no less, that they are waiting for their time to bloom. I am still waiting to see the bright green beginnings of new plant growth sprinkled throughout the woods,  as well as the slender emerald-green tender shoots of the new grass that grows close to the woods. Something about this new brilliantly colored grass is just as pleasing for me as the colorful flowers are.

back-up in the nesting boxes

back-up in the nesting boxes

 

Momma & 5 newborn chicks

Momma & 5 newborn chicks

Let’s not forget the chickens. Their egg production is in full swing it appears. Even though the weather is not what we would consider ideal quite yet, these girls know it is nearly spring and are producing eggs abundantly. The chicks I got back in the summer have just started laying last month. It’s funny how their eggs are small to start out with. It should be a few months when their eggs are full size.

I hope the newly laying hens will hold off wanting to set, (sit on their eggs to hatch the eggs) until next year. I have found that some of my new hens are compelled to set. I have also found they do not have the patience and or understanding when they are young to set with the same clutch of eggs through the twenty one day waiting period. This results on partially formed chicks that are abandoned. Not good.

When a hen does decide to set , I have to mark several of the eggs for her to keep for the entire twenty one days. Because when the time comes for her to get up and eat, drink, stretch her legs,  and defecate for the measly twenty minutes in a day, inevitably other hens will decide to lay in the very same nesting box. While gathering the daily eggs, my children will need to pick the setting hen up and check under her to see if she has unmarked eggs in with her marked eggs. It is, I would say, about a 97% chance that there will be unmarked eggs with her. So it is a little extra work for us, but well worth it when there is a doting mother hen with her tiny new chicks in the yard.

Lastly, what is heard in the early beginnings of spring rather than seen, Spring Peepers. Yes, the small but very boisterous sounding frogs that live in boggy areas. Or in my case two males that live in our pond. Just down the road from me is a corn field that has a low area. After all this rain and melting snow we have had it is no wonder there is water pooled in it. The day was warm so I had my car window down. To my delight I heard the very first chorus of Spring Peepers singing their beautiful mating songs. It is truly just around the corner now- Spring you are a very welcome season to welcome in!

Advertisements

Regardless of the everlasting winter

You know that expression “spring has sprung” ?  It is alive and well on my homestead! As it has happened for the many springs I have lived here, it is happening again. The many types of spring bulbs are rising above the soil waiting for their very own perfect day to emerge. Which is always a delight. The chickens are starting to increase their egg production. This is very much appreciated after their extremely slow production, which started much earlier this past late summer than in years past.  The maple trees are budding out, and the maple sap is flowing, which attracts a variety of insects. Unfortunately, our honey bees did not make it, so we do not have the pleasure of seeing them foraging on the maple’s sap or the Leather Leaf Mahonia’s lemon scented blossoms.

Another early sign of spring here in the mid Atlantic region is  the emergence of the red fox. I have not seen the red fox yet, but I am quite sure it has awakened from its winter slumber. How could I possibly know? The nose of a Great Dane mix, that is how. Lucy, my mixed Dane, which we do not know what else she is mixed with, has been bursting out of the door in the morning. I recognize her behavior from years past when we have had fox scouting the chicken yard for a way in.  Lucy runs around the yard following the fox’s invisible movements in the yard.  A dog’s nose is truly amazing! She will linger in a spot before moving on. I wonder what she could be “reading” with that amazing nose of hers? At times in her “senses quest” her hackles will raise. Curious. Even with a dog such as Lucy on alert, the brave and hungry fox will be so bold as to enter the fenced yard during the daytime to pluck a chicken from its seemingly secure foraging grounds.

Lucy

Lucy the fox scout

My Danes are family dogs that live indoors with us. Yet being dogs, they have their innate sense of purpose. Danes were originally bred for guarding the estate as well as boar hunting. Seeing as we do not have boars to hunt in our mid Atlantic region, they will have to just stick to one purpose. They do a fine job, mostly, of estate guarding. They would love to keep the delivery people off the property, as well as any stray animals: squirrels, groundhogs, foxes, and dogs or cats that do not belong to the family.

praying mantis casing

Praying Mantis casing

During all this garden cleaning I needed to move my Jasmine vine. It had become too “pushy” with the side of my house. I would rather not have it move the wood we nailed in place. In doing so, I found 4 praying mantis casings. I have given 3 away and moved the other to a spot under my evergreens. It is truly amazing when you stop using chemicals on your land what insects can be found with enough time to establish themselves. We have a plethora of praying mantis here. They are a sight to behold. As well as study.

snow cardinal

Snow Cardinal

Yet another late winter snow. I have to say the cardinals do look amazing all fluffed out with the snow falling around them! I am happy to report that if you keep the seed coming all year round they know you are a place to keep coming back to. And we sure do love it.

 

 

apple tree

Apple Trees

I bought some apples that were local, organic, and heirloom. The children and I loved them. So I thought, we can grow apples, perhaps not so well as our northern neighbors, but they are the most important element to me in the fruit itself. So without haste I decided, “Lets give it a go!” So here we go. Did I mention from time to time that I find gardening/homesteading to be an ongoing science experiment?

Precious time

tomato plant in back yard

tomato plant in back yard

tiger swollow tail

tiger swallowtail

toad

toad

luna moth

luna moth

The older I get the more I understand how precious time is. Some of my family members love to sleep. I prefer the waking world. The morning, in particular, especially while everyone else is asleep. There are so many options in the morning, many more than there are in the afternoon or evening.
Take the luna moth for an example. It has no mouth. It’s sole purpose, in the adult moth form, is to find a mate, breed, and lay eggs. It only lives as an adult for about 1 week. I have been fortunate this year to have seen three. They are magnificent creatures with their impressive wing span and their unmistakable color.
Another exciting event for us on the homestead this early spring was the courtship of the toads. They were singing their beautiful courtship song for what I thought was a short period of time, perhaps 3-4 days. This, before enticing a mate into the pond for a brief courtship, mating, and many, many eggs. This entire process from song to eggs only lasted, what seemed 2 weeks. We eagerly watched the eggs waiting for the inevitable tadpoles. Which, again, seemed so fast to emerge from their eggs. But, alas, time slowed. We watched and watched, waiting for the tadpoles to grow legs. It seemed for weeks, perhaps months, that the tadpoles just stayed the exact same size. Hummmm, what’s this? Time has really slowed now. The children lost interest, and honestly, I don’t know what happened to the tadpoles. We haven’t seen them in some time now.

If I am cutting up tomatoes and the chickens are free ranging in the back yard,  I will open the kitchen window and just throw the tomato scraps out. So country sounding, huh? But convenient and practical. That’s me!  And low-and-behold, a rouge tomato plant pops up. Good thing for leaving the grass long. I just love these sorts of surprises around our homestead!

You know you have a healthy environment when you have toads.  A photo of a toad  my kids found, handled, and replaced back to the garden. Sometimes we find them as large as my fist. Very impressive!

I picked up an unknown plant from a plant swap at least 5 years ago. I came to know it as Jeruselum artichoke. Apparently grown in the colonial days for their roots, which are used like potatoes, as they are a tubers. I have not tried them yet. Mostly because I have used them in my garden for their amazing gift of attracting butterfly and bees. Bumble bees seem to be more interested than honey bees in the artichoke. It is a sight to behold to see the astonishing amount of bees and butterfly enjoying the flowers. It would be almost criminal for me to cut the flowers to bring into the house, seeing how the winged beauties treasure this flower so. I must share, and I do share, with the creatures that help to make this all possible on my homestead.

tomato love!

tomato love!

Isn’t this really why we gardeners, dabblers, homesteaders, & farmers alike have the passion for growing our own foods?!  I can tell you a heirloom tomato most defineitly hits my top 3 picks for the all-time most treasured foods to grow.

I know it’s the end of summer now and I am just now posting something. But as the title goes, time is precious, and I’ve been in the gardens!

Looks like the flowers have it.

Bumble bee's working

Queen Anns Lace
Queen Ann’s Lace

If you pay attention, you will find how nature decides from year to year what is going to be the “stars” for the year, and what will be out. This year , at least in my yard and gardens, it is the flower.

This very much pleases me seeing as how I am a huge fan of flowers. They lift my spirits and give the beneficial insects their nectar and pollen. The abundant flowers this year do not require my attention. This is very key to me now that the chickens in my life have been consuming too much of my attention. (Side note: the baby chick that was taken in by the surrogate hen showed up dead with no apparent injuries 3 days ago. Very sad.)

It was told to me by a new friend that is a herbalist, that Queen Ann’s Lace can be used as birth control. Haven’t looked into this yet. I do believe she said in tincture form. I do wonder why Mother Nature has blessed my gardens with so much of it this year. Hummmm, to be pondered.

Bee Balm with bumble bee

Bee Balm with bumble bee

The bee balm I have in my gardens I was given about 10 years ago. This lovely herb loves to move around the garden. So it must be watched so it will not upset you with its playful behavior wanting to visit everywhere, invited or not. It is easy to manage though, having shallow rhizomes.

Bee balm is an antiseptic for wounds and acne. And, makes a nice added bit of sweetness to a herbal tea as well. Nothing like making your guests inquire  why you have flowers floating in their drink. Just for fun you know.

I find it difficult to cut for my own uses when I see how much the bumble bee’s love the flower. It has a fairly short blooming period. The leafy parts stay intact for some time. I would suggest placing this herb in the back of a garden as a tall green back drop.

2 bumble bee's working the flower

2 bumble bee’s working the flower

I have to say, of the volunteer flowers this year, I think the purple cone flower, also known in the herbal world as Echinacea, is my favorite. Talk about an easy flower. Bumble bees go mad for this flower. And I tell you the cone on it truly smells like honey. I should know since I have two honey bee coloniels.

In the past 3 years I have had a wonderful come back from my Echinacea. I thought I almost lost it about 6 years ago. It is not like the bee balm or Queen Ann’s Lace for showing up uninvited, but it will move around the gardens.

The root part of the plant is used in medicines for immune boosters. I have to say, I just can’t bring myself to dig up the plant and harvesting its roots. As I think we all know, harvesting the roots of the plant, unless you are very careful, will kill it. I just love the flower too much to harvest the whole plant. But maybe, just maybe, if it starts the garden party like the other two, I will bring myself to harvesting its lovely helpful roots.

Irresistable borage

borage

borage

I was going through some photos from last summer and came across these of my borage. Aren’t they just lovely? I mean isn’t the borage just lovely!

Borage can be easily overlooked if not placed in the correct spot. So I always place mine in the very front of all other herbs. No matter where it is in the garden it is sure to attract the beneficial insects. It is truly amazing to see how often the borage flower is visited. Seeing as how I love to watch all the comings-and -goings in the garden, the front row seems the most logical.

I have noticed on one plant there can be white, pink, light blue, bright blue, and dual colored flowers. Now, that is impressive! And the appearance of the flowers are so intercut and exotic it is surprising how delicate the flavor is… mild cucumber. The stems are so pale, slender, and succulent. The best part of the stem to me is that they are fuzzy. Very fuzzy. You would think this would not work so well for consuming the stems (I have actually read that it is recommended to peel them, but there would be nothing left!)  but I have never thought it an “issue”. The flavor of the stem, well, it’s mild cucumber too.

If you have not had the pleasure of these garden gems yet, I would highly recommend growing them. Even if it’s on your balcony in a pot. You will not be disappointed.

borage & bee balm